Question: Was the Apostle Paul Married?

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Question: Was the Apostle Paul Married?

Paul may have been widowed or divorced at the time of his writing to the Corinthians, but we can be sure that he was married at one time

Paul's Judaic background would have required it. In his defense before the Jewish crowd outside the Roman barracks of the Antonian tower, Paul states that he was taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers and was zealous in living that law (Acts 22:3). Again, in his defense before the Pharisees and Sadducees, Paul claims that he is a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). To the Galatians, Paul wrote that he was more zealous in fulfilling the requirements of his religion than others of his time (Gal 1:14). The emphasis that the Jews put on marriage as part of their law and tradition would certainly have been used against Paul in view of such statements if he had not been married, [1] especially if, as many scholars have suggested,[2] Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, one of the qualifications for which was that a man must be married and the father of children.[3]

But was Paul still married at the time of his writing to the Corinthians? The only evidence against it occurs in this same chapter of 1 Corinthinans, where Paul says

I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. 1 Corinthians 7:8

Since Paul is advising the unmarried to continue in this state, even as he, it certainly seems to imply that he was unmarried at the time of his writing. On the other hand, Paul says later in this same letter

Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? 1 Corinthians 9:5.

How would he have the power to lead about a wife on his travels, like the other apostles did, if he was not married or if his wife had died? So this seems to indicate that Paul was married, but that he simply did not take his wife with him in his ministry. If this is the case, then this might be the sense in which he is advising the Corinthian saints to "abide even as" he. Indeed, this is exactly the counsel he gives the married saints in 1 Corinthians 7:29.

But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none

So, based on Corinthians alone, it is hard to say whether Paul was widowed or was still married at the time he wrote his epistle. Fortunately, we have other, non-biblical, writers who had access to knowledge that has now clearly been lost about Paul's marital state during the time of his ministry. Eusebius,[4] the fourth-century Catholic Historian, states confidently that Paul’s yokefellow, whom he addresses in Philippians 4:3 with these words,

And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women who laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow-labourers. (Philippians 4:2–3)

is in fact his wife. The Greek syzyge, the word translated “yokefellow,” is often used to refer to a spouse. Eusebius' conclusion is itself based on a statement from Clement of Alexandria,[5] who was writing sometime prior to 231 A.D. when the traditions about Paul were still very recent.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we should note that Ignatius, writing in the latter half of first century, states

I pray that, being found worthy of God, I may be found ... at the feet of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; as of Joseph, and Isaiah, and the rest of the prophets; as of Peter, and Paul, and the rest of the apostles, that were married men.[6]

Notes

  1. Mishnah, Aboth 5:21, trans. H. Danby, p. 458. “At five years old (one is fit) for the scripture, at ten years for the Mishnah, at thirteen for (the fulfilling of) the commandments, at fifteen for the Talmud, at eighteen for the bride-chamber, at twenty for pursuing (a calling), at thirty for authority, at forty for discernment, at fifty for counsel, at sixty to be an elder, at seventy for grey hairs, at eighty for special strength. …” See also David Smith, Life and Letters of St. Paul, p. 30f.
  2. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul (Deseret Book, 1983) pp. 23-25.
  3. Sanhedrin 36:2.
  4. Eusebius Pamphilius, Ecclesiasical History Book III, Chap 30, in Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers Series 2, Volume 1 (NPNF2-01: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine), Philip Schaff, ed., (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886) p. 162.
  5. Stromata, Book III, Chap 6, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2 (ANF02. Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria), Philip Schaff, ed., (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886) p. 390.
  6. Philadelphians, Chap 4, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1 (ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus), Philip Schaff, ed., (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886) p. 81.